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This Just In From Out East: Pacific 10 Basketball Is OK

March 23, 2001|MIKE PENNER

It's always a life-enriching experience, being exposed to a strange and foreign culture you wouldn't ordinarily see or sample.

So it was good of the Pacific 10 Conference to send two exports into the Eastern time zone, which, as we all know, is where elite college basketball begins and ends.

"Duke may have to win the Pac-10 championship to win the national championship," CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz mused to partner Billy Packer during Thursday night's East Regional semifinals in Philadelphia. "UCLA tonight . . . USC will be in the regional final. Then Stanford in the Final Four, if Stanford advances out west. And possibly Arizona in the championship game. Four in a row!"

Out east, this was breaking news--and Nantz hadn't even mentioned Gonzaga's Bulldogs, the pride of Spokane, Wash., another team from the boondocks that had somehow tunneled its way into the NCAA's Sweet 16.

Out east, West Coast basketball is a musty scrapbook packed away in the attic and left unopened for years. Once upon a time. Sure, UCLA was something back in the day, East Coast dads have told their sons and daughters. Lew Al-Somebody. The Bruins even won a title in '95, followed by Arizona in '97.

But, then, that was another century.

However, if the Beatles can have a No. 1 album in Britney-and-'N Sync-infested 2001, it's never too late for mass re-education.

So, to take it from the top:

* USC's colors are cardinal and gold. Not "maroon," as CBS's graphic indicated throughout the Trojans' 80-76 victory over Kentucky. (Kentucky, by the way, wears blue, not indigo or sapphire or aquamarine.)

* Over the years, USC has actually recruited quality basketball players from outside SEC and ACC territory. Many television viewers were amazed to learn from Packer that two of USC's "greatest" basketball players--Dwight Anderson and Rodrick Rhodes--originally hailed from Kentucky. Really? What in the name of Harold Miner, Paul Westphal, Gus Williams and Bill Sharman was Packer talking about?

* USC outscored Kentucky by 19 points in the first half because of the Trojans' active zone defense and quality outside shooting--not because Kentucky was in a funk because former Wildcat Coach Rick Pitino had just been hired by cross-state rival Louisville, as Nantz suggested.

Bulletin: West Coast colleges do play basketball.

USC, in this tournament, has played it well enough to knock out three sacred icons of the college basketball establishment in as many games--Eddie Sutton, the champion of the Big East (Boston College) and Kentucky. Understandably, the college basketball establishment has taken time coming to grips with this.

UCLA also reached the final 16, by virtue of victories over Hofstra and Utah State. Many in the East considered UCLA's victory over Hofstra an upset, even if the Bruins were seeded fourth in the East Regional and the Pride 13th. Throw the seedings out the window, went the cry. UCLA inflated its seeding by beating up on a bunch of football schools and soft-in-the-paint surfers. Hofstra had won 18 in a row, playing the brutes of the Eastern seaboard, in games--most importantly--that ended before East Coast newspaper deadlines.

UCLA does come equipped with a national reputation, something USC basketball lacks, which prompted Packer to crack as he glanced at the East Regional's last remaining survivors, "Is this not a Final Four?" Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and . . . well, what's USC doing in there?

Packer felt he had to do some explaining.

"To be quite honest," he told his audience before the Trojans tipped off against Kentucky, "starting five for starting five, USC has the most athletes." And he was right: In Jeff Trepanier, Brandon Granville, David Bluthenthal, Sam Clancy and Brian Scalabrine, the sixth-seeded Trojans did have better athletes than the first five Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith sent onto the floor.

Lest Packer be accused of heresy, Nantz was moved to quickly add, "Kentucky has the most depth."

Well, the next 40 minutes proved Packer correct, even if Granville's personal-foul collection prolonged the suspense until the final seconds.

Fouls got UCLA, and Coach Steve Lavin, into trouble during the Bruins' 76-63 loss to Duke. With the Bruins shooting just 26% in the first half and Lavin desperate for points, he left his best shooter, Jason Kapono, in the game despite three fouls. Less than a minute before intermission, Kapono picked up his fourth foul . . . and from there, Lavin was escorted to the CBS rotisserie grill.

"I think that was a calculated mistake on the part of Coach Lavin to leave [Kapono] out on the floor," Packer said, and how many UCLA alums nodded their heads in agreement and muttered, "Lavin's been making calculated mistakes for years."

Wrong word, as Nantz reminded Packer.

"Miscalculation," Nantz corrected.

"Miscalculation," Packer concurred.

CBS did succeed in capturing perhaps the image of the tournament, USC Coach Henry Bibby immediately after the Trojans' victory. The camera caught Bibby smiling, Bibby laughing, Bibby hugging an assistant coach.

Henry Bibby, possessing the capacity for happiness, even if only for a few frozen moments?

Learn something new every day.

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